Google Pixel 8a Review: Round Around The Corners, Cute, And Cost-Effective

EDITORS' RATING : 8 / 10
Pros
  • Bright display with 120Hz refresh
  • Processor perfectly adequate for daily life
  • Weight and feel of a high-end phone
  • Both extravagant and classy color options
  • Whole package is well worth the asking price
Cons
  • Extremely rounded display corners are jarring
  • No must-have improvements over predecessors
  • No headphone jack

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The Google Pixel 8a is a great phone, not unlike its predecessors. Google's Pixel phones have always been decent, delivering a simple Android mobile experience with very little to fret about. The cameras have always been top-notch, and Google's been consistent with software updates and software support. At this point, what's left to say?

The Google Pixel 8a is the most basic and inexpensive version of Google's pure Android experience — without being so basic as to feel cheap. You can find the device in four colors: Obsidian (black), Porcelain (white), Aloe (green), and Bay (blue). I have the Bay version here, provided by Google for this review along with a matching official Google case (also in blue). If you're planning on going for the new Aloe version, I'd recommend seeing it in person, first — it is even more intense than you might expect. 

This Bay Blue Google Pixel 8a is a soothing, lovely piece of industrial design that's pleasing to look at and handle. What I need to decide here is if I'd be happy if I'd purchased this device instead of any other similarly-priced smartphone on the market today — or if I'd be better off spending a little more for a significantly better piece of hardware. Assuming there is one, of course.

The Pixel Android software experience

The software experience you get on a Google Pixel 8a is effectively identical to that of a Google Pixel 8 and a Google Pixel 8 Pro. Google's Android on a Pixel smartphone is the one I recommend to friends and family. It's simple and friendly but can be as customized and powerful as you want. Google makes great devices.

It is a complicated time to be a smartphone user right this minute if only because of the lack of change from year-to-year, device-to-device. As easy as it is to pick up any Android phone and go about your life after logging in to a few apps, it's difficult to recommend one phone over another. What's the difference?

With the Google Pixel 8a, you're getting a device that just works. If any friend or family member came to me today for a phone recommendation, I'd tell them to get a Pixel 8a, knowing full well that I'd be on the hook for answering any tech questions they might have about that device from that point forward. I can't imagine they'd have many.

Camera tests

Above you'll see a photo captured by the Pixel 8a that shows how effortlessly it handles situations in which HDR is essential. I did not need to choose any special feature for this photo, no settings needed to be changed. Google's Pixel 8a is capable of capturing a splendid photo with ease — so long as it's a very nice day out.

While the Pixel 8a is not a miracle worker, I would not hesitate to bring this device as my sole option for photography and video on a family vacation. This phone is more than ready to handle the responsibility of keeping precious moments locked in time and space. 

Above you'll see an example of a photo of the edge of a stream. I wanted to focus on one rock without the rest of the image turning into blurry mush, and the Pixel 8a allowed me to do that without leaving the most standard of photo modes. 

Next, you'll see a nest with a few eggs inside. I also captured photos with the eggs in focus, but this one shows something more important.

This is really the only time you'll see the Pixel 8a have trouble (in bright daylight, anyway) — when there's a complicated array of subjects in the out-of-focus part of a photo. Up close on the in-focus bit you'll see that the camera does its job well. The eggs also look great — they're in the background, they're out of focus, but they're simple, so there's little that needs to be processed. On the bottom half of the photo, though, things get a little messy. 

Camera compared to Pixel 8 Pro

Despite the fact that the Pixel 8a has an ever-so-slightly lower-quality camera setup than the Pixel 8, it's still far better than many of the other camera setups on Android devices in this price range. You'll still be able to take a great photo so long as you can hold still for a moment. If you're trying to sneak a peek at a bird's eggs before the bird returns to scold you for getting up in her business, you might just need to be OK with less-than-perfect results.

Above you'll see two photos of a leg of a wooden sign. One was captured by the Google Pixel 8a, the other was captured by the Google Pixel 8 Pro. If I hadn't arranged the photos myself, I wouldn't be able to guess which one was which — (Pixel 8a is on the right, by the way). The Pixel 8 Pro seems to process complicated arrays of imagery more readily than the Pixel 8a when complicated imagery is out of focus and/or in a dimly lit environment. If you're an everyday average photographer, the differences between the cameras on the Pixel 8a, Pixel 8, and Pixel 8 Pro are extremely difficult to see — and might very well outweigh their differences in cost.

When should I buy a Google Pixel 8a?

If you've been using any previous-generation "a" Pixel smartphone and you need a new one, the Google Pixel 8a is a great replacement. If you've been using a Google Pixel 8 and you want to recommend it to a friend, but your friend has a slightly more limited budget, it's difficult to imagine having a good reason to suggest anything other than the Pixel 8a.

Don't let the megapixels of the cameras fool you — the cameras on the Pixel 8 are ever-so-slightly better than those of the Pixel 8a because of their image sensors. But really, unless you've got both devices next to one another and are looking at both photos together, you're not going to notice the difference.

If you've been using an iPhone for the past decade and want to switch to Android, the Pixel 8a is a great place to start. For its initial asking price of around $500 (or less), this Pixel 8a is more than worth what you'll pay. Unless you want removable data storage or a 3.5mm headphone jack — those seem to be gone for good.

NOTE: We will have additional notes on battery life once we have sufficient data to pass judgment on this part of the Pixel 8a experience. At publishing time for this review, the Pixel 8a seems to have battery draw and uptime that's comparable to the Pixel 8 when performing the same or similar tasks.

Wrap-up

The Google Pixel 8a is a lovely addition to the Pixel smartphone lineup, presenting a value in its hardware and software that exceeds its asking price. If you're able to find a Google Pixel 8 for a lower price than that of the 8a, get the 8 — but it's difficult to notice the difference unless you're switching from one directly to the other.

You can purchase the Google Pixel 8a on Amazon right now for around $500. Amazon also has a (likely very limited) deal where you can pay approximately $500 and get a $100 Amazon gift card. You'll find the device in four colors: Obsidian (black), Porcelain (white), Aloe (green), and Bay (blue, the color we've reviewed here).

You can buy a 128GB version in any of the four colors for $500, or there's a 256GB version in Obsidian that'll cost you $60 extra. These are the one-time off-contract prices, mind you — you'll also find on-contract options at your mobile carrier of choice.

Meanwhile, and likely not for long, you can also purchase a "Renewed" (used, fixed up to work like new) version of the Google Pixel 8 on Amazon for around $440.